survivorship is beautiful, isn’t it? umm actually, no. i mean, maybe it is. i am not sure yet. i just got here. i was laying on the acupuncture table when these words came into my brain. i kept repeating them over and over so that my chemo brain wouldn’t erase them before i could put pen to paper and write this blog. the acupuncturist was reviewing my file with me. it was my first visit since my breasts were cut off and replaced with tissue from my abdomen. the last in the series of efforts to eradicate my body from cancer. but my file takes you back to march of last year. the first thing you read is that i just finished chemo treatments but about four lines later, you read about how it all started. the virus. one year ago. and how this cancer was found through the recovery of that virus. the one that nearly took my life. and she looks at me and says ‘what a year.’ a set of words that are commonly used in conversation with me. what a year. to which i almost always, knee jerkingly reply, ‘yup’. because you’d have to be six feet under in order to not recognize that. and it’s not that i don’t agree. trust me. it’s been a year. it’s been the worst year. it’s been the hardest year. it’s been the year that broke me. it’s been the year that tested my marriage. it’s been the year that forced me into places that i have never been. places that were really dark and cloudy. places that were scary and never navigated before. it was a year of exhaustion and what felt like endless work. to get healthy. to return to normal. to heal. and it felt like around every corner, something else lurked. and so when the acupuncturist said ‘what a year’, i didn’t reply with ‘yup’. i just hung my head. because i am finding myself surprised daily in this experience. some days are easy. and others, flooded with emotions. and i think that the acupuncturist noticed that. in that moment. she recognized that my response was purely just a hang of my head. and the next thing she said is what sent me into a whole different wavelength. she said ‘how did you do it?’ and i looked up at her confused. i replied, ‘how did i do what?’
‘how did you do it? make it through the year?’ and i replied back with the shake of my head- ‘honestly, i do not even know sometimes and i think that’s the part of healing that i am in’. and the conversation after that is pretty much unremarkable. until you fast forward about eight minutes. i am lying there on the table with acupuncture needles in my feet, ankles, ears, elbows and forehead. counting the ceiling tiles. with tears sliding out of both corners of my eyes. and that’s when the opening lines of this blog post enter my space. survivorship is beautiful, isn’t it? i traced those words in the air so as not to forget them hours later when i sat down to write this. survivorship is beautiful, isn’t it? well, i think from the outside in, it’s supposed to be magical. it’s supposed to be joy and happiness. all bottled up for you after you get the call. the one that announces your success in the battle against cancer. and suddenly, you find yourself being shoved into another place. survivorship. the place you’ve dreamed about. the place that you thought was unreachable. the place you begged for and prayed for in the early hours during treatment. when the hallucinations and night sweats and nausea kept you awake but barely lucid. survivorship baby. that’s the mecca. i will say it again. survivorship is beautiful, isn’t it? hmmm, well. actually. yikes. no, it’s not. it’s painted beautifully. but it’s actually really fucking hard. and i can say that. because i just landed here. forty four days ago. i woke up alone in a hospital room for the second time in a year’s time. granted this time was a little different. but i woke up alone in a hospital room, and i looked down at the body within the ugly hospital gown and i knew i had landed in survivorship. and i sobbed. alone. in a hospital room. fourteen stories above the city of baltimore. it signified the fight. the endless days and relentless nights. the horrific treatment days and the worst days being in the past. survivorship. it felt beautiful right then, in that moment. an achievement. but it’s beauty is often the only thing that gets talked about. we push people into the light of survivorship. to recreate the normalcy that once was. because we don’t know any better. because when the acupuncturist asked me ‘how did you do it? make it through the year?’ and i replied back with the shake of my head- ‘honestly, i do not even know sometimes and i think that’s the part of healing that i am in’. that’s important. that right there. HOW DID YOU DO IT. how did i do it?! how did i make it through the hardest season of life, in a global pandemic, just fifteen weeks after battling an infectious disease? how?! i don’t know how. i could chalk it up to tenacity or bravery or to the incredible team of doctors and nurses. i could say it wasn’t me at all. it was the tribe of people that carried me. i could say it was just what i had to do. but i honestly don’t know how i did it. and that’s where i am in healing. because for me, survivorship is not beautiful right now. it’s freeing. for sure. but it’s not beautiful. it’s scary as hell. it’s ugly and it’s frightening and it’s hard. it’s waking up and feeling scared to give too much of yourself to the world; because it might make you tired or bring pain. it’s waking up to the body that is in healing mode. waking up to a body that has been ravaged by two diseases in less than a year. a body that is playing catch-up. it’s spending the days processing the trauma. the emotional trauma. the physical trauma. trying to make sense of it all. trying not to box it into something. fending off the boxes people like to hand out. like the ‘everything happens for a reason’ box. ugh. i hate that box. or the ‘at least your treatment plan worked, look at so and so’. hate that box too. survivorship is hard. it’s taking everything and dealing with it. because during treatment, you’re just surviving. you’re just waking up and making it through the day. and everything gets stacked up. waiting for you to unpack and process it. that’s where i am. so i cried today. on the acupuncture table. for nearly forty minutes. i repeated over and over- ‘i am so proud of you’. i probably said it two dozen times. I AM SO PROUD OF YOU. proud of myself. for being here. today. in this place of healing. it’s ugly. it’s not fun. even when i am smiling, it’s hard. and i am not having a good time. it’s a lot of work. it’s scary and emotional and triggering and exhausting and worth it. because survivorship is beautiful. i know that it is. somewhere. buried beneath the healing. i know it’s beautiful. it was beautiful when i woke up from twelve hours of anesthesia. it was beautiful in the early moments. and it is still beautiful. just right now, i am in the ugly throes of healing. sifting through it all. the parts that were dark and the parts that broke me. the parts i can’t talk about and the parts that make my skin crawl. the parts that built me and the parts i am so damn proud of.
healing. it’s the hardest part. it requires the patience of a saint. it pushes you to look at everything- including the stuff you shoved way down inside. including the stuff you swore to never relive. healing isn’t linear. it’s hard. it’s scary. but i am so proud to be here. on the path of healing. because i know at the end, i will be able to bask in the beauty of survivorship.